Geology for Global Development


Why California is least prepared for earthquakes. Increasing pressure on geoengineering. Tackling the challenge of groundwater. Jesse Zondervan’s July 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Why California is least prepared for earthquakes. Increasing pressure on geoengineering. Tackling the challenge of groundwater. Jesse Zondervan’s July 2019 #GfGDpicks #SciComm

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. Here’s a round-up of Jesse’s selections for the last month:

Earthquake preparedness in the US

Last month has seen two strong earthquakes in California, and in an interview with CNN seismologist Dr Lucy Jones says California is not as well prepared as it could be, especially compared to places like Japan and Chile. Political scientist Matt Motta attributes this to a low electoral incentive for policymakers to work on preventative policies rather than response to earthquake damage, which leads to the conclusion that communicating earthquake risk to people living in hazardous areas is vital to improving preparedness.

To geoengineer or not?

There has also been some debate on geoengineering, with climate scientists at Harvard and MIT arguing that risks of geoengineering may be overstated, whilst Cambridge scholars warn against the social blinding effect of ‘emissions debt’ through the temporary use of solar geoengineering.

At the same time, there is an increasing pressure from insurance companies for cities to adapt to climate change-related risks, and the threat of Antarctic ice collapse raising sea levels dramatically led to the suggestion of artificially snowing ocean water on it in great quantities.

Ultimately, we need research to understand the risks and efficacy of solar engineering, which is why the newly published map for predicting paths of particles emitted in the atmosphere is a welcome addition.

The challenge of groundwater

The challenge to relying on deeper water aquifers to sustain supply is that deeper strata are generally less conducive to extraction, water gets saltier at depth, and finally, it costs more. A new study finds that Americans are drilling deeper, raising concern over the sustainability of water extraction.

A new method of testing groundwater resources using the tidal effects of gravitation on groundwater addresses the challenge of investigating and managing water resources more sustainably.

More this month, the unwavering resistance of Guatemalans in one of the world’s most hazardous areas, the unnoticed climate crisis disasters happening weekly, and the question of sovereignty as Pacific countries drown.


Simple, accurate and inexpensive: A new method for exploring groundwater at the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

Americans are drilling deeper than ever for freshwater at University of California – Santa Barbara

Climate Change Adaptation

Insurance Companies Push Cities To Take Climate Action by Sarah Lawrynuik at The Sprawl

What happens when a country drowns? By Sarah Munoz at The Conversation

Climate Risk Disclosure Act Is Good for Your Investments by Nicole Pinko at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Arctic ice loss is worrying, but the giant stirring in the South could be even worse at The Conversation


Betting on speculative geoengineering may risk an escalating ‘climate debt crisis’ by Shinichiro Asayama and Mike Hulme

Risks of Controversial Geoengineering Approach “May Be Overstated” By John Fialka at E&E News

Chaos theory produces map for predicting paths of particles emitted into the atmosphere at ScienceDaily

Sea level rise: West Antarctic ice collapse may be prevented by snowing ocean water onto it at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Earthquake preparedness in the US

She’s been explaining earthquakes for decades. Here’s where she says California is least prepared by Braden Goyette at CNN

Americans focus on responding to earthquake damage, not preventing it, because they’re unaware of their risk by Matt Motta at The Conversation

Hospitals implement quake-ready technology, teams in seismically active areas by Jacqueline Renfrow at FierceHealthcare

Disaster Risk

‘Artificial intelligence’ fit to monitor volcanoes at GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

Istanbul: Seafloor study proves earthquake risk for the first time at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR)

History, disasters, and resilience: The story of Antigua Guatemala by Barbara Minguez Garcia and Rodrigo Donoso Arias at World Bank Blogs

One climate crisis disaster happening every week, UN warns by Fiona Harvey at The Guardian

External Opportunities

Law and Sustainability Summer School at the Earth System Governance Project

Opportunity: Senior Research Associate in Policy, Politics and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research


Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev & Facebook.

Guest Blog: Exploring Land Use in Guatemala

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 15.45.01
Jane Robb is GfGD’s University Groups Training Programme Officer, and a new PhD student at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich. Jane has just returned from Guatemala, where she was meeting with community groups and exploring land use issues. Here she shares some of the highlights of her trip with us.

In 2014 I started my PhD in Natural Resources at the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich. My project, in collaboration with the University of Valle, Guatemala, is currently exploring the institutional context within which land use changes and deforestation occur, and how this can inform the development of a Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) project in the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve. I say currently, as the location has changed a little since I started the PhD (originally Sierra Leone, then Peru, then Madagascar, then Guatemala), and so has the focus of the project (first drivers of change in landscape carbon stocks, then understanding decision processes, then institutional analysis). By the time this post is published, I will probably be doing something else.

Coincidentally, GfGD are running a fundraising project throughout the year focusing on Guatemala, so I thought I would take this opportunity to provide readers with a photographic tour of my first 7-week field trip of my PhD, to Guatemala.

Out of a car, on my way to the first meeting in the city, I get a glimpse of Guatemalan life.


The first two weeks of my trip involved tailing my supervisor, who was finishing up a project funded by The Darwin Initiative on agroforestry for sustaining biodiversity of shaded coffee and cocoa plantations. This was an ideal start, as I was introduced to many key people for the rest of my stay and it gave me a crash course on Guatemala. This photo is the finale conference for the project, held at ANACAFE (the national coffee association for coffee cooperatives) offices in the city with several delegates from across Guatemala and the UK drinking ANACAFE coffee to kick off the conference.


After the conference presenting the results of the project, I accompanied Jeremy and colleagues to visit some of the coffee plantations they had been working with, to see their progress in person. This was my first glimpse of the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, at dusk in a small hotel just off the Polochic valley.


The next day we made the journey up towards the centre of the Biosphere Reserve. Once we reached the community, we had a perfect view onto the nuclear zone. However, it was clear that deforestation had been encroaching into the nuclear zone, where all use of the forest (other than for scientific research and ecotourism) is banned.

SAM_0782After consultation with the community representatives about the state of their coffee plantations, we stopped for a photo with wooden cardamom driers as a backdrop, then joined them for some lunch.


On our way back down the mountain, up close, the extent of deforesting and land degradation was clear.


In the Polochic valley at the base of the Sierra las Minas, we drove through monoculture plantations of sugar cane and oil palm, one of the newer threats to biodiversity and land degradation in Guatemala.


On our way back to the city, we encountered some incredible views of the countryside that even deforestation couldn’t mar.


After returning to the city briefly, we then made our way out towards another community, this time south west of the city near the famous town of Quetzaltenango. Here we attended the offices of a coffee cooperative, where members of the Darwin project team discussed their results with the plantation owners.


In a third community nearby, we were taken on a hiking tour of their plantations.


Later, members of the coffee cooperative were presented with biodiversity maps and information books on agroforestry.


With time for a little relaxation, we visited some Mayan ruins. (A must do in Guatemala!)


And of course viewed some of Guatemala’s incredible geologic forces at work.


By the time my supervisor left at the end of my second week, it was Easter and time for the uniquely Guatemalan week long celebration of Semana Santa. Here you can see carpets of vegetables and seeds laid out on the streets of the city (alfombras), over which the Catholic processions would progress later that afternoon.


I was lucky to have some time to explore the stunning cultural centre of the city during this week of revelry.


Guatemala takes the holy week of Semana Santa very seriously, so I thought I would follow tradition and take the holiday seriously too. I headed off to the party capital of Guatemala, Lake Atitlan, where I also took a week of Spanish lessons.


And kayaked.


With my third week over, it was back to work. This mainly consisted of attending meetings and working from the Centre for Study of the Environment and Biodiversity (CEAB) at the University of Valle. We did manage to take a short visit to some forestry plantations, to estimate the carbon content of different types of plantations in order to develop a comprehensive view of the carbon emissions and sinks in Guatemala for the national United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) supported REDD+ programme. We might have also found time to stay a night at Lake Atitlan that trip, as it was such a long drive back home…


Images of Guatemala (9) – Conflict and Disasters


Until 1996, Guatemala was in the midst of a brutal Civil War. This sculpture in the Presidential Palace of Guatemala City is a reminder of that troubled past and symbolic of a hopeful peaceful future.

In the same way that conflict/disasters can hamper and set-back development efforts, conflict can also set-back disaster risk reduction and management. Even once finished, past conflicts can erode trust between different groups. High levels of trust are a crucial factor in both preparing for and responding to disasters. In thinking through approaches to disasters, for example volcanic crises, in any given area, it is important to think about the implications of historical events and more recent events. We can undertake brilliant geological assessments of landslide prone slopes, volcanic activity or seismic vulnerability – but the erosion of trust due to previous conflict (or other factors) may prevent these being acted upon. Re-building and maintaining trust is essential and should be taken seriously by all involved in disaster reduction.

(Credit: Geology for Global Development, 2015)

Each Friday we are publishing an image from Guatemala to promote our ‘100 x 100’ fundraising campaign. We are working with students, recent graduates and others in the UK to raise money to support efforts to reduce the impact of volcanic hazards in Guatemala.

Find out more:

Register your interest: Submit your information here

Images of Guatemala (8) – Volcanic Observatories

Images of Guatemala (8) – Volcanic Observatories

The volcanic observatories, run by the National Institute for Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH), are based close to Guatemala’s active volcanoes, including Fuego and Santiaguito. Observers, located at each observatory, make observations and work with those in the local community to share information about the volcano. Our fundraising project will be working to strengthen their capacity and ability to serve these communities.

Each Friday we are publishing an image from Guatemala to promote our ‘100 x 100’ fundraising campaign. We are working with students, recent graduates and others in the UK to raise money to support efforts to reduce the impact of volcanic hazards in Guatemala.

Find out more:

Register your interest: Submit your information here